Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Hanukkah Day 8: "Ner Li, Ner Li"

I'm going to close out this week with another lovely, but lessor known Hanukkah song "Ner Li, Ner Li (I have a candle)." I've only heard a few recorded versions of this one and have never heard it sung, which is a shame. It's got a simple melody well suited to family gatherings. Here are the lyrics (courtesy of GreatJewishMusic.com)

Ner li, ner li, ner li dakik
BaHanukkah neri ad'lik
BaHanukkah neri ya'ir
BaHanukkah sirim ashir
BaHanukkah neri ya'ir
BaHanukkah sirim ashir
I have a candle, a petite candle
On Hanukkah I shall light my candle
On Hanukkah my candle will give light
On Hanukkah, I shall sing songs
On Hanukkah my candle will give light
On Hanukkah, I shall sing songs

I'm going to showcase two different versions of it. First, doing a not so simple rendition, the Israeli musician Yair Gedasi.

Second, a simpler, more home singable, version. This version is embedded in an interesting animated video put together by someone named Leah who unfortunately wasn't able to credit the musician who's version of Ner Li she used. Does anyone recognize this fellows voice?

Personally, I'm most fond of the Cindy Paley recording from her "Chanukkah, a Signing Celebration" album.

Hat tip to YouTube user SimTales for posting the animated video.

Hanukkah Day 7: Frank Chilik's Maoz Tzur

I'm still running behind but can't resist finishing off my Hanukkah blog posts. Can't have Hanukkah end on day 6, right? So indulge me.

Here's Israeli clarinetist Frank Chilik playing an arrangement of Maoz Tzur. If I follow his Hebrew during the intro, I think he said that this arrangement comes from a Breslov niggun. According to the video notes, the video was "[f]ilmed in the burial cave of the Sandhedrin near Shimon HaTzaddik's grave in Jerusalem" and "Chilik recently published a new album." According to Chilik's bio,
"[his] lyrical, virtuosic playing has made him one of the greatest Hasidic and klezmer clarinetists. He is in high demand with his band in Israel and internationally and has released several recordings including many of his own compositions. His extensive repertoire includes hundreds of nigunim from all major Hasidic traditions as well as a vast repertoire of Eastern European and Meron style klezmer."
You can find his albums at Israel Music and at Mostly Music.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Hanukkah Day 6: Safam's "Candles of the Menorah"

Safam logoWhen I was putting together that suggested playlist for the Lite Rock station, I came across a song and a band I hadn't heard of. The band is Safam and the song is "Candles in the Menorah." It was one of those mind-blowing moments I live for. Where had this been all my life? Seriously. A solid band, writing songs from the Jewish experience, in ENGLISH (at least some of them)? How come I never heard of them? (Ok. I know the answer to that: I grew up attending an isolated Conservative synagogue in Connecticut with few Jewish friends. How could I have heard of them?)

Safam describes themselves as "Safam, the Boston based six-man band, has dominated Jewish music in America with their "Jewish-American Sound" since 1974. Often copied, never duplicated, they are originals -- original music, original lyrics, original arrangements -- their songs have become a fabric of our Jewish lives." I believe it. I see a lot of testimonials around the internet commenting on how Safam is beloved.

While "Candles in the Menorah" lack's the anthemic power of Peter Yarrow's "Light One Candle" and the home-spun sing-along quality of Flory Jagoda's "Ocho Kandelikas," two new additions to the standard Hanukkah repertoire, it captures a rich and timeless depth of experience in a radio-friendly manner. To some degree, "Candles" is nothing more than a non-confrontational universalization of Chanukkah into a Jewish flavored 'be good to others' Christmas carol. That's what makes it so unique. "Candles" won't be sung in Hebrew school concerts, but should be on every radio station in the US that wants to take the idea of "holiday" music seriously. While the punk, folk, jazz loving teen-ager I used to be wouldn't have been overwhelmed with "Candles" the light-rock sound, I would have been blown away to hear this song on a radio station. Twenty years later, I would still be. As an adult music fan, I'm still not overwhelmed by the light-rock sound, but as a parent I'd put one of their albums on in a heart-beat and would expect my kids to love it.

I don't have the full "Candles in the Menorah" available, but here's a sample from CD Baby. For more info and different ways to pick up this song and other Safam albums, see their website.

Safam's "Candle in the Menorah" (sample)

Friday, December 26, 2008

Hanukkah Day 5: The Leevee's Latke Clan & How Do You Spell Channukkahh

While I love all of the classic Hanukkah songs, I'm always eager to hear something new. My favorite album of new Hanukkah songs is The Leevee's Hanukkah Rocks. It's actually two years old at this point but, since the Maccabean revolt actually happened over two thousands of years ago and Adam Sandler's "Hanukkah Song" hit Saturday Night Live in 1995, I still feel pretty timely. The Leevees are Adam Gardner, of the wonderful indie-acoustic band Guster and Dave Schneider of the all-hockey songs (not kidding) band The Zambonis. Gardner and Schneider put out an album of infectious, well crafted, pop songs that tackle such deep topics as the spelling of Hanukkah, visiting weird uncles, and the relative merits of appled sauce and sour cream. No deep theology here, but a sure sense of the Jewish experience in America at the turn of our millenium.

First up, The Leevee's Latke Clan which was featured on both the TV Show Grays Anatomy and my recent Hanukkah podcast. (Yes, I know Grays Anatomy is much cooler than my podcast but I try). Seriously, I see this one being a family singalong favorite. If your family is as warped as mine.

Latke Clan

Next up, The Leevee's ponder one of the deepest questions of the holiday season.

How Do You Spell Channukkahh

For more info on the Leevees or to pickup their album hit their website or their myspace page.

Hat tip to YouTube user armwritingdotcom for posting Latke Clan video.

Hanukkah Day 4: Mi Yemalel in three part harmony, with religious controversy and annoying little brothers

Chag Sameach everyone. I'm still a day behind, but am trying to catch up. For Hanukkah day 4, I've got two takes on the popular Hanukkah song Mi Yimalel (Who Can Retell) and some thoughts on the meaning of the song.

First, the music. I don't know much about this lovely version other than the singers are Oren and Chaya the video was uploaded yesterday by Oren and Oren from the Berkley Hillel. Great job folks.

Oren and Chaya's Mi Yemalel

Next up is an adorable home recording from YouTube user Emorutube showcasing a young lady's (Emorutube's daughter?) pajama-clad home performance. As a dad with two daughters, I loved this one. My house is filled with shows like this. Kudos to the young lady for grace and perseverance despite dad with camera, an annoying kid brother, and one or two forgotten words. Love it.

So, about the controversy. No doubt that Mi Yimalel is a very popular song with the empowering message "[b]ut now all Israel must as one arise, Redeem itself through deed and sacrifice". In short, in every age we've got troubles and in every age we need to respond to them ourselves. But not everyone loves that message. I read an interesting grumble on NeoHasid.Org recently that complained that "Mi Yimalel embodies the dangerous hubris that characterized the anti-religious branch of Zionism. The message of Mi Yimalel is that we find salvation only through our own strength and power. That is the downfall of the State and the tyrant equally." because "In Judaism, rabbinic and Biblical, it is God who is moshi'a savior, fodeh rescuer, and go'el redeemer." A commentator on the NeoHasid website noted that we shouldn't be surprised by the song's slant because "the song was written in the middle of the 20th Century, by Menashe Rabina, a Communist, a Zionist and a music critic, who was fiercely anti-Nazi." I've been able to confirm that as correct but haven't been able to find a good biography of Rabina yet that might expand on it.

I bring this up in the same spirit I mentioned a related grumble about Peter Yarrow's popular "Don't Let The Lights Go Out." As songs, and prayers, for that matter, become part of our collective cultural experience it's easy to forget that they were composed at a specific time and with a specific meaning. However you interpret and respond to that time and meaning is your own business, but you should be aware of what you're singing. Personally, I have no objection Rabina's sentiment. From both a secular self-preservation standpoint and a religious Tikun Olam perspective Jews are expected to act in the world and having a few songs around that celebrate that call to action is just fine. I also see the writer at NeoHasid's point that putting ourselves too firmly in the role of being our own savior may be arrogant, disrespectful, and self-defeating.

On a holiday that celebrates Judah Macabee's victory but quickly points out that it was a miracle, these are ideas worth thinking about.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Jew At Christmas

Last night I posted to Facebook that I was going to take my family out for Chinese. A well meaning Christian ex-classmate piped up "Reminds me of that movie. Enjoy!" Yep. The movie of my life was filmed long ago and I'm just the sequel. And today (Christmas Day) I took the wigglers to see a movie. The stereotype lives on. What's a Jew to do?

In that spirit, here's a cut-and-paste video put together over the Good For the Jews song "(Its Good To Be) A Jew at Christmas. As a bonus, you can catch a NPR interview with the Rob Tannenbaum of GFTJ and a live performance of the song.

A Jew At Christmas

Hat tip to YouTube user lsdm1499 for posting the video.

Hanukkah Day 3: Battle of Driedel Kitsch - Gay Cowboys vs Ersatz Hassids

So I love showcasing diversity in Jewish music and today will be hard to beat. I've got a couple of completely kitschy takes on "I Have A little Driedel". Let me say first that I love good kitsch as much as anyone, but am often the first to thumb my nose at it. Why? Because most of it is done as a cheap shot at the source materiel and doesn't add anything funny of its own. Here's a great comparison.

First up, Captain Smartypants, a Seattle Men's Chorus Ensemble. Their "Brokeback Driedel" has been making the rounds lately. I really enjoy this version, not only because I have a minor obsession with Jewish cowboys, but because it's a great example of kitsch done right. They use their performance of the song to smirk at themselves, at the same time presenting and parodying the notion of gay cowboys (and Jewish gay cowboys at that). And, of course, they sing wonderfully.

Captain Smartypants sings "BrokeBack Dreidel"

Here's my counterpoint, Erran Baron Cohen's TERRIBLE version of Driedel from his album Songs in the Key of Hanukkah*. Musically, it's adequate if uninspired. The rock singer takes a deadpan serious take on the lyrics while dancing around in ersatz Hassid garb. Right. Are we really supposed to believe that this guy is that jazzed about playing Driedel? C'mon. If we're supposed to believe it, show us why? And why are we making fun of Hassid's here? Because they dress funny? Because they like driedels? Is that the best you can do? Seriously, this is hand-stitched flea market toilet seat cover with US flags on it level of bad kitsch. If you want to satirize Chassidus, go for it. But show some knowledge and style. (For a great example of it done right, see "I want to be a Rebbe"). Bleah.

Songs In The Key of Hanukkah - Dreidel

Bad kitsch. Bad. No biscuit.

*To be fair, I should say that Driedel is probably the worst song on Songs in the Key of Hanukkah. (I have no idea why they chose it as the first single / video). While it's not a brilliant album, it has a number of bright spots. For example, I love "My Hanukkah (Keep the Fire Alive)" and included it in my Hanukkah podcast. For a great example of how a contemporary pop band can take on a Hanukkah chestnut an without being kitschy check out the Hip Hop Hoodios version of Ocho Kandelikas. Ok. The bagle bra was kischy. But other than that.....

Hat tip to YouTube user yanky6130 for posting "I Want to be a Rebbe."

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Hanukkah Day 2: Yes We Can

Woops. Meant to lead off my Hanukkah videos with this one. It's an add for the local Malibu Florida Chabad House, but is much more.

Chanukah: Yes, We Can!

Here are the lyics and the Chabad (Lubavitch Chassidic) House's explanation...

"It was the bold encouragement offered by Moses to a nation yearning for freedom Yes, we can!

It was the phrase that kept our hopes alive during historys harshest times Yes we can Yes we can

It was spoken defiantly to those wishing to stamp out religious freedoms - Yes we can

When triumph seemed beyond reach; G-ds miracle was not. In hidden caves, attics and cellars His people courageously whispered: - Yes He can

THIS was the message that G-d sent the world when a small team of Maccabees vanquished an entire army - Yes we can - Yes we can

And was the comforting answer to the Jews in Communist Russia who wondered: Will the Menorah ever shine in my life

- Yes. We. Can.

On Chanukah we celebrate freedom we celebrate with pride we celebrate in public, in the open because we can! Whether you lit the menorah last year, or 20 years ago celebrate this Chanukah with family celebrate with Chabad

Start lighting YOUR menorah Sunday evening December 21st, 2008 and let the flame of freedom speak for herself: - Yes. We. Can. "

Monday, December 22, 2008

Hanukkah Day 1: Al Hanisim

Happy Hanukkah everyone.

I'm going to put up one or two Hanukkah songs a day for the week. I was a bit tied up this morning (meaning I was obsessively checking the download stats on my new Teruah podcast) and didn't get my day one video's up. But better late than never. Here's a bunch of folks at a Hanukkah party in Jerusalem a couple of years ago singing Al Hanisim. The video is pretty dark, but the singing is great fun. Wish I was there. The melody is easy to pick up and HebrewSongs has the lyrics, so add this one to you next Hanukkah party.

Hat tip to rebezra posting the videos.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Teruah Podcast Episode 1: The Hanukkah Show

Hi folks,

I finally went and did it. I started a podcast. I'm looking at it as a companion piece to this blog and, like the blog it will be mostly me talking about and playing some of the great music I find. You can download it here:

Teruah Podcast Episode 1: The Hanukkah Show

If you want to subscribe here's the URL for the podcast feed:


If you're hip to podcasts that's all you need to know. If not, here's a bit of explanation. A podcast is just audio program like a radio show. In my case it's the 'excitable DJ spinning discs at 1AM on community radio style' of radio show. Technically, a podcast is just an .MP3 audio file that you download to your computer and then, if desired, to a .MP3 player. You can do it just like that, one show at a time. Or you can use 'podcatcher' software like iTunes to automatically download each new show when it comes out. If you use iTunes, just hit "subscribe to new podcast" and then cut and paste the feed URL above into text box. That's it. If you need help, let me know.

Episode 1: The Hanukkah Show features a few off-beat picks for favorite new Hanukkah music. These are songs I listened to when looking for some Hanukkah music for the lite rock radio station I was helping. These songs didn't fit their format, but are great none-the-less.

Intro theme: Selection from Kletka Red's "Jew in Jerusalem" from the Radical Jewish Culture album "Hijacking"

Podcast tracks:
1. RebbeSoul's "Rock of Ages" from his album "Change the World with a Sound" available through CD Baby or the RebbeSoul website.

2. The Lori Cahan-Simon Ensemble's "Drey zikh, dreydele – Spin, Little Dreydl" from their album "Chanukah is Freylekh! A Yiddish Chanukah Celebration. Songs My Bubbe Should Have Taught Me: Volume Two" available through CD Baby.

3. Lipa Schmeltzer's "Oy Chanukah" from his DVD "The Lipa Experience" available from Sameach Records & JewishJukebox.com Also, check out Lipa's "Oy Chanukah" video on YouTube. This guy is one of a kind.

4. Erran Baron Cohen's "My Hanukkah (Keep the Fire Alive) Featuring Y-Love and Dana Kerstein from the album "Songs in the Key of Hanukkah" available on New Line Records. The album's available through Amazon and iTunes. If you dig this track you need to check out Y-Love's solo album "This Is Babylon." (You can also catch an NPR interview ith Y-Love)

5. Cantor Richard Kaplan's Breslov Hanukkah nigun "Uminotar Kankanim" from the Estelle Frankel and Richard Kaplan album "The Kabbalah of Chanukkah." You can find this album and more on his website. If you enjoyed the nigun, you might also check out NeoHasid.Org which has a large and off-beat collection of niggunim or the "Breslov on the Internet" website.

6. Last but not least, The Leevees "Latke Clan" from their album "Hanukkah Rocks" available through JDub Records.

It's been great fun putting this podcast together. I plan on doing this once a month or so, so stay tuned!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

More songs for the Holtzberg's

Earlier this week I posted about Moshe Hecht's new song Lamplighter, which he wrote for the Holtzbergs (the Chabbad Rabbi and Rebitizen who were killed in Mumbai). Clearly, death of the Holtzberg's was felt across the Jewish world and more songs will be written that express the pain and frustration we feel. Here are two more to add to the list...

Gavriel & Rivka Holtzberg HI"D - Mumbai Chabad Shluchim - Original Av Horachamim by Yossi Bayles

Song for the Holtzbergs HY"D

Hat tip to Youtube users yossibayles and hershky84 for posting the videos.

Being Jewish at elementary school "holiday" concerts

I live in a small farm town in Michigan with a population about 1100. Jewish population: Me, my wife, and my two little scholars. But to the best of it's ability, the town has been good to us and accepting of us. The day care my littlest one goes to is bumping and jumping to the sound of Shiralala's Chanukkah album to the point where parents have commented positively on their kids singing some of the songs at home. The elementary school fumbled a bit last year around the holiday (Chanukkah is NOT part of "Christmas around the world"), but recovered this year. The music teacher made a point of including a Chanukkah song in the 1st grade portion of the concert. My elder scholar was proud as punch to have her Christian friends singing it with her and was well aware they were doing it for her.

So why am I still so frustrated with the whole thing?

Was it the guy in the Santa suit in the foyer getting his picture taken with some of my scholar's classmates? Was it the fact that that the other two songs in 1st grade set were Rudolf the Red Nosed Raindeer and All I want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth and it was hinted that the school was somehow being noble for our benefit by singing 'secular' Christmas songs instead of religious ones? Is that I'm still bitter about being sent to the principals office in 4th grade for not singing even "secular" Christmas carols in a school assembly? I don't know. Mostly it's that this country is confused about how to deal with religion that no matter what anyone does their wrong.

I can think about it from two perspectives, neither of which give me much help. First, I can think of from a community perspective because, after all, the school is focal point of the community. Its part of how the community's children are raised and part of the community's pride and identity (9 out of 10 newspaper articles that reference my town refer to a school sports event). And the this community has a dominant religion, with some variation (Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, and I think, Lutheran). Who am I to tell them to pretend they don't have one? But because of me they're forced to. They present Santa and Rudolf instead of Jesus and Mary because Santa and Rudolf are safe, secularized, cartoon icons. Honestly, I'd rather see Nativity scene on stage because that's what Christians actually believe and value. Now that this community has Jews too, it's nice that our traditions get included in the community events. Except that what's put on stage has as little to do with my real traditions and beliefs as Santa does to a Christian. The Chanukkah song the kids sang mentioned Hanukkah and a candle, but otherwise could have been about anything. It's not that being at an event that is so stridently Christian makes me uncomfortable or feel alienated. It doesn't. It's just that the whole thing feels like such a sham.

Another perspective, one encouraged by the National Assocation for Music Education (MENC) and the Anti-Defamation League, is to ask schools to justify everything they do in terms of their educational mission. A major portion of Western music is Christian religious music. Western music can't be properly taught without dealing with religious music and teaching music includes performance. This clearly justifies the inclusion of Christian religious music in performance in schools. But only, according to the Supreme Court as paraphrased by the MENC, if it can withstand these questions...

"1. What is the purpose of the activity? Is the purpose secular in nature, that is, studying music of a particular composer's style or historical period?

2. What is the primary effect of the activity? Is it the celebration of religion? Does the activity either enhance or inhibit religion? Does it invite confusion of thought or family objections?

3. Does the activity involve excessive entanglement with a religion or religious group, or between the schools and religious organizations? Financial support can, in certain cases, be considered an entanglement."

I like this test because it implies that a holiday concert could put a Nativity scene up on stage along with the redication of the temple by the victorious Maccabees and have it meet the criteria. Even at a first grade level, having a bunch of first grader's sing a Chanukkah song at least teaches them that there are Jews out there. But the concert as presented, I feel, violates, 1, 2, and possibly 3. It's not that my scholar was asked to sing a Christian song. I, and she, have no problem with that. The problem is that there was no awareness of any educational mission by anyone. What was the educational reasong for having Santa in the foyer posing for pictures? Making everything educational would make a museum of our lives.

So I'll continue to struggle, as will lots of other Jews and Christians, with the question about how to deal with religion in school and in school concerts in particular. But it's alright. I love my town and my religion and the one is accepting of the other. That's enough for now.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Yahrtzeit for Grandpa Ted / Shir Ha Maalot

Tonight is the Yahrtzeit for my grandfather Ted Pollans. I'll be lighting a candle for him tonight. It will be the first time I've done that. I'm not sure why this year, other than I'm missing him a lot lately. Every time I stand at the sink doing the dishes after a dinner party while my wife chats with our guests I think of how similar we are. That was always his tradition. Grandma Hubey worked all afternoon preparing supper for her guests, while Grandpa entertained. Once dinner was over, he took to the dishes so Grandma could catch up and swap family gossip. Grandpa loved music, too, though his taste in music ran more toward Frank Sinatra than the David Chevan or Hasidic New Wave.

It's tradition to recite a Psalm when you light the Yahrtzeit candle, and I'll do that at sundown. For now, here's Yosef Karduner singing Shir Lama'alot from Psalm 121, A song of ascents.

Yosef Karduner: Shir Lama'alot

And in memory of Grandpa Ted, here's his beloved Frank Sinatra singing the Sammy Cahn (Jewish, natch) and Jimmy Van Heusen "Come Fly With Me".

Frank Sinatra - Come Fly With Me

Monday, December 15, 2008

Moshe Hecht's 'Lamplighters' for the Holtzbergs

I got an email at the end of last week from Moshe Hecht, a Chassidic musician who just releaed a new song, Lamplighters, that commemorates the Holtzbergs (the Chabbad Rabbi and Rebitizen who were killed in Mumbai) and celebrates folks like them. As his bio states...
"Born into a Chassidic family trailing generations of rabbis, Moshe Hecht grew up striving to define himself while staying true to his faith. He turned to singing and songwriting to put the pieces together. Moshe’s music draws inspiration from reggae, classic rock, folk and Chassidic melodies. His lyrics are poetic, honest, and confident, complimented by a voice that is aged with a depth, wisdom and passion beyond his 23 years."
While I dig Hecht's music and support the thought behind Lamplighters, I personally find the song to be a bit to much of an anthem for my musical taste. I much prefer the intimacy of his song Illusions. Check 'em both out...



For more info on Hecht or the Lamplighters song or to download your own copy, see the Lamplighters website. Hecht hangs out on FaceBook and you can contact him there as well.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Cantor Richard Kaplan singing at ALEPH Kallah 2003


Here's one more pre-Shabbat post. I was listening to more of the niggunim on the NeoHasid.Org website and through found Cantor Richard Kaplan. Kaplan describes himself by saying
"Performing professionally as a singer, songwriter, and pianist for over 30 years, Richard Kaplan is a Cantor, teacher, ethnomusicologist and choral conductor. His extensive concert repertoire of Jewish World Music includes songs from Ashkenazic (European), Mizrachi (Middle Eastern), and Sephardic (Spanish/Andalusian) traditions, as well as original pieces, often based on ancient melodies and texts. Richard tours nationally and internationally giving workshops where participants can experientially explore masterpieces of Jewish World Sacred Music."

Kaplan has a whole series of CDs available at his website, as well as through iTunes and eMusic. I'm looking forward to hearing them all. To tide me over, here's a lovely performance of Kaplan's from a recent Jewish Renewal event.

Cantor Richard Kaplan singing at ALEPH Kallah 2003

Hat tip to YouTube user JewishRenewal for posting the video.

Tzur Mishelo (a Shabbat Nigun) from NeoHasid.Org

Shabbat shalom everyone,

So I'm catching up on my music reviews but still have a couple of good ones outstanding (sorry Gidi!). I would have gotten caught up except that I'm too easy to distract. This week's distraction, the Teruah Jewish Music Podcast. That's right, I'm working on a podcast. It's my brothers fault, really. I've had a couple of folks suggest that I start a podcast before, but when my brother and calls up specifically to ask me for one, I take notice. I've got a first draft just about done and will be circulating it to a few friends (maybe you?) for feedback this weekend and then posting it for all to hear sometime next week.

Right now, I'm looking forward to Shabbat. To help get in the groove, I thought I'd share one of my recent finds: the NeoHasid niggunim site. Niggunim are partially or fully wordless songs from the Chassidic tradition. The thought is that words are fine to help you focus your thoughts, but eventually they just get in the way. The NeoHasid site "is dedicated to bringing the wellsprings of Chasidut as far as the internet can carry them–an open door to Chasidic songs and traditions (aka "Chasidus"), for everyone: women and men, religious or secular, however observant, connected to a Jewish community or not." Neohasid is interesting because, unlike many Chasidic websites, NeoHasid.org "also features eco-Torah, egalitarian liturgies, and cultural reports on the new Chasidim." For a liberal Jew who loves much about Chasidus but has difficulty with the non-egalitarian aspects, it's pretty refreshing. New Chasidim? Must investigate further.

And I love their eclectic niggunim collection which includes very traditional niggun (often sung by women without any handwringing about Kol Isha) right next to contemporary compositions and interpretations (including a Rebbesoul electric jam on Avinu Malkeinu). While they're all worth listening to (and learning and singing), today I'd like to highlight the nigun Tzur Mishelo, from the Breslov tradition. The singer, Emilia Cataldo, describes it saying, "[t]his is a Breslov tune for the well known shabbat song. It is usually sung by men and is loud and rowdier. I picked up this more feminine version at Midreshet Bat Ayin, where I learned in 1999."

Tzur Mishelo performed by Emilia Cataldo

The OU Torah Tidbits website describes Tzur Mishelo this way...
[Tzur Mishel] does not mention Shabbat. It is based on Birkat HaMazon. The first stanza - HaZan et olamo... He Who feeds His world... we ate His bread and drank His wine, therefore, we must thank Him... This is the theme of the first bracha of Birkat HaMazon. The second stanza announces that we will bless G-d with song and the sound of thanks for the lovely Land He gave our ancestors and for the food which has satiated us... This parallels the 2nd bracha of Birkat HaMazon. The third stanza (that's the one on the AW) relates to part of the third bracha - Jerusalem. We ask HaShem to have mercy on His people (us) and on Zion, the site of the Mikdash (in other words - Jerusalem), and send the Moshi'ach. The other part of the third bracha relates to the Beit HaMikdash. This is the fourth stanza of Tzur Mishelo - Yibaneh HaMikdash... All this over a full cup of wine, as Birkat HaMazon is (should be, can be) recited. The refrain, is like the Birkat HaZimun, the call to join together and bench.
I'm thinking I need to learn this one and add it to my families Shabbat zemirot repertoire..

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Judy Alive - "I adopted a 30 year old Chinese Woman! "

And now for something completely different...

"Meet Judy Shapiro,a lonely New York City woman who adopts a Chinese baby girl. When the baby arrives from China, however, it's a 30-year-old Chinese woman who was kidnapped in Beijing and sold on the black market to an American adoption agency. Judy is so anxious to be a mother, though, that she convinces herself she really does have an infant on her hands."

Judy Alive was a short run, four episode, "web sitcom" that went up on YouTube last year. I just ran across it this morning while looking for something else. Story of my life. It's pretty funny and would have fit great on a sketch TV show like Mad TV. You can catch all four episodes on the JudyAlive YouTube. Here's episode 4...

"Chinese Woman learns Jewish Songs."
After attending a music class for parents and children, Judy has her daughter Faigela (Baozhai) demonstrate what she has learned."

Monday, December 8, 2008

Slow Food Jewish Food & Music 2008

Here's a video that merges two of my favorite things, slow food and Jewish music. Slow food, from the official definition on the Slow Food International website, is a movement "to counteract fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world." For my wife and I it means, as much as possible, knowing the farmers we buy our food from and eating what's fresh in the current season. I currently have a quarter of a cow in my freezer that came from a pasture about 2 miles from my house. From April to November, the bulk of our produce comes from two farms, both of which are within 4 miles of our house.

The video below is a short feature about Aotearoa Slow Food, the Wellington Australia New Zealand chapter of Slow Food International. They held an event earlier this year to support delegates to the Terra Madre, a Slow Food event held in Turin Italy back this past October. Their entertainment for the event was the Jews Brothers "Irreverent, iconoclastic, wickedly playful," Cafe Klezmer, and The Klezmer Rebs, an 8 piece Wellington klezmer band. The soundtrack for the video below is The Jews Brothers doing some serious Yiddish Swing. Great stuff.

Slow Food Jewish Food & Music 2008

The Klezmer Rebs and Cafe Klezmer don't appear in the video, so here's The Klezmer Rebs from their "Live at their Wellington Folk Festival" CD. I haven't found an online sample of Cafe Klezmer, but if I do I'll let you know.

Dem ganefs yikhes

There is a much deeper connection between the slow food movement and Jewish culture that has received a lot of attention recently. The connection is about what food is fit for a Jew to eat. Traditionally, that question has been primarily answered through application of kashrut laws (e.g. no pork). The last couple of years has seen a rise of folks in both traditional and liberal communities that wish to see other aspects of Jewish law and tradition energetically applied to the question as well. These other aspects include fair labor practices, humane treatment of animals, and minimal environmental impact. There are a wide range of opinions on this topic. One group, Heksher Tzedek, is taking it as far as wanting to place an additional mark on a food product assuring the committed Jew that the food item was produced in accordance to this wider range of halachic requirements. My buddy Michael Croland of Heeb 'n Vegan also routinely writes thought provoking pieces from his vegan perspective. What ever your opinion, it is a fascinating topic worthy of personal and communal consideration.

Hat tip to the folks at Aotearoa Slow Food for posting the video and organizing the event.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

ShirLaLa’s Chanukah - Outrageously Hip Kiddie Rock

Shirlala Chanukah Album CoverI grew up on The Cure and R.E.M. I wear black turtle necks and Vans sneakers to work. I have a goatee (mostly because I secretly want to be Vincent Price). While I don’t kid myself that I’m actually hip anymore, I can tell you for a fact that the most un-hip thing you can possibly do is write “outrageously hip” on the record jacket of a children's album.

But that’s ok. Hipness aside, Shira Kline’s ShirLaLa Chanukah is the best kids album I’ve heard in a while. Easily the best I’ve reviewed since my previous obsession with Oy Baby. It bumps and jumps, swept along by Kline’s mischievous voice and upbeat guitar work and buoyed by Josh Nelson’s warm and cheerful production. (See my review of Nelson’s recent album “Lift”). The album, hip or not, captures the contemporary Jewish para-liturgical musical zeitgeist perfectly. Centered on poppy folk guitar with some rock and roll flourishes and pop vocal melodies, it mixes in Ashkenazi, Sephardic, and Mizrahi tunes to create a full Diaspora Jewish sound. (The cover advertised hip-hop, too. While the one hip-hopish number won’t give Y-Love a run for his money, it wasn’t embarrassing the way many such attempts are. Just some fun folk melodies sung over a stuttery electronica dance rhythms that turn into a mixed-up round at the end.)

The big test for any kids album, though, isn’t whether it works for a late-30-something ex-hipster. It’s whether it works for kids. So in the tradition of empirical science (I’m a research scientist by day) I did an experiment. I set up some favorable circumstances; me, my two little scholars (age 4 and 6), and their Grandfather stuck in my wife’s car while she and her mother went shopping in Target for an hour. Boredom central. Would this disk save the day? Or would we be popping it out in favor of current favorites High School Musical 2 or Hannah Montana 2?

The results….

We have a winner. And let me tell you, my girls are two tough little critics. They hear lots of music, both Jewish and secular. This was a hit from first bumps of Klein’s Chanukah redo of “La Bamba” all the way through the closing Chanukah prayers. My elder scholar was delighted that she knew the melodies to a number of the classics (“Oh Chanukah,” “Sevivon Sov Sov,” “This Little Light of Mine”) but picked up the new ones quickly. (There was lots of showing off in front of Grandpa to do.) My littlest scholar, despite not knowing as many of the lyrics or melodies loved it just as much, gravitating to the more bumpity call and response songs like the “Macabees March” and “I am Antiochous.” In the days since that first hearing the album has been in heavy rotation, much to the chagrin of my wife. She has been cast by the girls in the role of Anitiochus to whom they loudly sing “What do we say! We Say NAY! You'll not be the boss of ME!”

Here are a couple of samples from the album. Check 'em out.

Sivivon Sov Sov Sov

I am Antiochous

Another joy of this album is the liner. The lyrics for each song are listed in the original language (English, Hebrew, Judeo-Spanish, and Yiddish) along with both English translations and transliterations. Perfect for when Al Hanisim defeats my limited ability to translate Hebrew and my way too smart 1st grader isn’t putting up with vague answers such as “It’s, umm, about Chanukah? And, umm, about one of the miracles?” The one thing that kids enjoyed that I just didn’t was the Chanukah comic in the liner. In addition to some unprofessional scanning and anti-aliasing problems, Mor Erlich’s drawings of Judah Macabee gave him poofy hair and a pale blue tunic / hair-band combo that look like Olivia Newton John on the set of Xanadu. Now, I don’t need my Macabees to be GI Joe buff, but c’mon….

For more information, and to order a copy, visit the ShiraLaLa website or CD Baby. This one is highly recommended.

Saturday, December 6, 2008


I bopped over to the JewSchool blog just now to catch up on the last week or so's posts and didn't make it past the first post. JewSchool correspondents Feygele and Dlevy wrote a fantastic post about 13, a new Broadway musical. I wasn't aware of 13, so I'll let Dlevy explain...
"Thursday night, feygele and I saw 13, a Broadway musical with songs by Jason Robert Brown, book by Dan Elish and Jason Robert Brown. The show tells the story of Evan Goldman, a 12-year-old kid from the Upper West Side of New York whose parents get divorced on the cusp of his Bar Mitzvah. His mom moves him to Indiana where he must make new friends in time to have anyone at his Bar Mitzvah party, while trying to figure out what exactly it means to become a man."
Unfortunately, Feygele and Dlevy note that "The handling of Jewish culture was a huge sticking point for me - the bar mitzvah was only referred to as a party" and "Judaism is there, at least superficially." Ah well. I didn't expect any different. Too bad.

What made the post wonderful was not only the acumen of and love for Broadway that comes through in the post, but some sensitive reminiscence on the author's personal histories that were invoked by the show. Oh, and they name checked Falsettos another Broadway musical with a central Jewish theme that I wasn't aware of. I'll have to hunt it down.

13 Music Video

Friday, December 5, 2008

Lipa and Yitzchok Fuchs Hallelu Video

Shabbat shalom folks.

My gang and I are going to services at our local Chabbad house tonight and then for Shabbat dinner with the Chabbad folks. We've been looking forward to it all week. I'm very much in the Shabbat mood already but that won't stop me from posting a 'get in the Shabbat groove video." The video is of Chassidic musicians Lipa and Yitzchok Fuchs performing Hallelu. I saw this video first over on the Life of Rubin blog a few weeks ago and was blown alway by Fuchs. I'm going to need to pick up some of his recordings ASAP.

Lipa and Yitzchok Fuchs Hallelu

Hat tip to Shlager.net for posting the video to YouTube.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Konsonans Retro & Mom - Ukranian Klezmer Brass as a family tradition

Album cover for Konsonans Retro's A Podolian AffairSocalled calls them "the funkiest, freshest, most rooted and rocking klezzified sounds of the new millennium." Whew. I get breathless even typing that. But he isn't wrong. Konsonans Retro is a pretty amazing family klezmer / brass band from Ukraine. I picked up their recent album A Podolian Affair recently and was blown away. Love that funky, rapid-fire horn section and the surprisingly strong male harmony singing. And Christian Dawid's clarinet is wonderful. Here's their official blurb...
"Konsonans Retro are a pretty old wedding brass band from Odessa region, Ukraine, and possibly the coolest and freshest new world music act to come out of Eastern Europe. For generations - and through countless hot nights - the Baranovsky family and their in-laws have been passionately playing the wild and sweet wedding music of Podolia, a powerful and soul-stirring blend of Moldavian, Ukrainian and unique Jewish tunes. And they sing - everywhere they are. That you have to hear for yourself…

Somewhere in 2005, the band met Berlin-based master clarinetist Christian Dawid (some think it was in Vienna). Soon plans were made – since then, the new Konsonans Retro have been performing for thousands of listeners at the Krakow Festival of Jewish Culture, at Vienna’s excellent Klezmore festival and have been touring through Germany, Switzerland and Ukraine. "
Here are the guys playing on a street (my favorite venue) outside the port of Odessa. Check 'em out. You can learn more about them at their website or grab their album CD Baby.

Konsonans Retro plays at port of Odessa

Here's an extra special bonus, on drums ... their mom! I said this was a family band, right? Well, they learned their rhythm at home. Here's what the guys say...
"Kodyma, Ukraine: Maria Parfenivna Baranovska, mother of the Baranovsky brothers of Konsonans Retro fame, has been drumming all her life. In November 2008, she joined her sons Vitaly (trombone), Vasily (trumpet) and Volodymyr (accordion) to document some of the family repertoire from her native Zagnitkiv..."
Mother of the Drive

Just wonderful.

Hattip to Dumneazu of the Dumneazu blog for posting the Konsanos Retro video and to boys in the band for posting the video of their mom.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Father Don't Cry - for the Holtzbergs

May all the mourners be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

I haven't commented on the tragedy of the murder of the Chabbad Rabbi and rebbetzin and the others in Mumbai. What is there to say?

Today their funeral was webcast by Chabbad. I didn't/won't tune in. But I've been thinking about it all day.

Chaim, from the Life of Rubin blog, posted this video of Chassidic musician Avraham Fried's "Father Don't Cry" from Fried's album "Bein Kach Ubein Kach.." I don't love the song, but today I think it's just about perfect.

Father Don't Cry

Bring on the day....

Hat tip to Chaim for reminding me of the song and to YouTube user ybh666 for posting it.